… and Khayyam, too, is no more. One of the last stalwarts of the Golden Age of Hindi cinema (and one who, like SD Burman, was able to reinvent himself and his music beautifully) passed away earlier this week, on August 19th.
Born on February 18th, 1927 in Rahon (Punjab), Mohammad Zahur ‘Khayyam’ Hashmi was so interested in music from a young age that he ran away to Delhi to become an actor, and ended up being enrolled to learn music—not an endeavour which lasted long, since his family hauled him back home to complete his studies. Khayyam did not show too much interest in studies, however. At the young age of 17, having gone to Lahore to learn music from the Punjabi music director Baba Chishti, he so impressed the man that Baba Chishti took him on as assistant music director.
After serving in the Army during World War II, Khayyam came to Bombay and the film industry, initially working as part of a team: as the Sharmaji of ‘Sharmaji-Varmaji’ (Rahman Varma was the ‘Varmaji’), he made his debut with Heer-Ranjha, in 1948. Varma left for Pakistan shortly after, and Khayyam struck out on his own, notching up, though slowly, some of Hindi cinema’s loveliest songs over the decades to come.
One of the most laudable things about Khayyam’s music, I think, was his ability to create good music even at a time when music in Hindi cinema was going down the drain. When I think of film music from the 1980s onwards, I invariably cringe—but Khayyam it was who gave us the exceptions for that decade: gems like Aye dil-e-naadaan (Razia Sultan, 1983), In aankhon ki masti ke, Dil cheez kya hai and Justju jiski thhi (Umrao Jaan, 1981), Dikhaayi diye yoon (Bazaar, 1982)—plus, of course, some very good songs through the 1970s. In fact, most of Khayyam’s awards came during or after the 1970s and 80s: Filmfare Best Music Director (Kabhie Kabhie, 1977 and Umrao Jaan, 1982), National Film Award (Umrao Jaan), and later, Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award (2010), the Padmabhushan (2011) and the Hridaynath Mangeshkar Award (2018).
So, by way of tribute, ten of my favourite Khayyam songs. Since my blog focuses on the era before the 1970s, all of these songs are from pre-70s Hindi films that I’ve watched. And, to make this a little more challenging for myself, just one song per film.
1. Shaam-e-gham ki kasam (Footpath, 1953): A young man waits for his beloved to come to him. The night stretches on, deserted and hopeless, and he struggles with his restlessness. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics convey the despair of the frustrated and lonely lover, and Khayyam’s gentle, soothing music really showcases the lyrics—as well as Talat’s voice. I love that the song is not drowned out by much orchestration: the musical instruments are so few that they allow both the singer’s voice and the lyrics to shine forth.
2. Woh subaah kabhi toh aayegi (Phir Subah Hogi, 1958): I must admit to having faced a serious dilemma when choosing only one song from Phir Subah Hogi. This film had some excellent songs, including the brilliantly cynical Chini-o-Arab hamaara and Aasmaan pe hai khuda, and the sweetly romantic Phir na keeje. After much thinking, I eventually settled on this, because I have a particularly soft spot for Woh subaah kabhi toh aayegi. Khayyam again lets the voices (Mukesh’s and Asha’s) and the lyrics (Sahir’s) take centre stage, with the musical instruments only providing a gentle, sublime backdrop for the song. I love the way this tune goes: so restrained, so quiet and even tentative in the beginning (as if these people, though singing of hope, are still fearful of expressing that hope…) and then building up into a crescendo—as if now convinced that yes, that dawn of hope and happiness will come. The perfect tune for a song of hope.
3. Pyaas kuchh aur bhi bhadka di (Lala Rukh, 1958): When it comes to the score of Lala Rukh, the song which probably immediately comes to the minds of most people is the very popular Hai kali-kali ke labh par, sung by Mohammad Rafi. While that is a delightful song, the film had a lot of other good songs too—including this one, which occurs in two versions, happy and sad. In the first (happy) version, the lovely princess Lala Rukh (Shyama) is wooed by the handsome and enigmatic poet (Talat) whom she meets while en route to her own wedding.
A lovely romantic duet (Asha Bhonsle and Talat), but for me even better is the second version of the song, the sad one that’s a solo, sung primarily by Asha, with Talat joining in only at the end with the refrain. Lala Rukh, broken-hearted and separated from her lover, about to be married to a ghastly bridegroom whom she despises, sings achingly for the man she loves to come to her… the same tune, but by stripping it of most of its instrumentation, Khayyam raises it a couple of notches higher.
4. Hum jahaan ke kaarobaar dekhte chale gaye (Mera Bhai Mera Dushman, 1967): Another Khayyam song picturized on Shyama. Mera Bhai Mera Dushman was a forgettable film, a story about a thuggish man who stoops low enough to betray his own elder brother, who’s trying to break into the world of prizefighting (yes, that at least is a novelty—I don’t think I’ve come across any other Hindi films from that era which had prizefighting as an important plot element). The film had several good songs, though, and this is a favourite of mine. A distressed heroine, hemmed in by a bullying sister and brother-in-law, and with her lover labouring under a misunderstanding, uses a party to air her woes. The music is lilting and lovely, and Asha’s voice is full of emotion.
5. Tum apna ranj-o-gham (Shagoon, 1964): What is the ultimate expression of love? Not the ‘I will bring the stars down for you’, not the ‘I will lay down my life for you’—but a more practical, more real assurance: that one will stand by the loved one. In this sad but oddly defiant song of love (written by Sahir Ludhianvi), the woman (played by Nivedita) is well aware that the man she loves does not love her; he is married to another—but she tells him, nevertheless, what he means to her. And that, come what may, he can rely on her loyalty and her love to shield him from the cruel blows of the world. She wants his woes for her own, she wants his sorrow and his distress.
Not just beautiful lyrics and beautiful music, but also beautifully sung by Jagjit Kaur, Khayyam’s wife, who sang in several of his films and even assisted him in some films.
One thing I especially appreciate about the music of this song (besides the fact that—almost trademark Khayyam—it has subdued music that allows the singer’s voice to be in the limelight) is that the piano which appears onscreen has a prominent presence in the music too. There are other instruments too, but it’s the piano that is most obviously there.
6. Jaane kya dhoondti rehti hain (Shola aur Shabnam, 1961): Kaifi Azmi and Khayyam worked together on several films, including Lala Rukh, Shola aur Shabnam, and Aakhri Khat. Earlier this year, in my song list to mark the birth centenary of Kaifi Azmi, I listed Jaane kya dhoondti rehti hain as one of my favourites. That song appears again here on this list, because it is not just an example of fine lyrics, but also an example of excellent music. The first stanzas of the song—until almost the very end—are sung gently, softly: a despairing man’s insistence that he is not the one a woman should love. Then, as the despair mounts, his voice rises into a frantic wail, a crescendo of pain: what can one who has himself been sold, hope to buy in this marketplace? An inspired and thoughtful use of music to reinforce the lyrics of a song.
7. Hum aapko hi chaahein (Purdah, 1949): Purdah, starring Rehana in the lead role as the woman whose innocent beauty drives a ‘paraaya aadmi’ to lust after her—and leave a trail of dead bodies in his attempt to have her for his own—was a regressive and irritating film that was redeemed mostly by the many songs that Khayyam (credited as Sharmaji, though by now Varmaji was gone) composed for the film. Besides a couple of qawwalis, a mujra, a good devotional (Sarkar-e-Madina, Mukhtar-e-Madina), and more, there’s this song, which I liked a lot. Chand Burque’s character, heartbroken to find that the man she loves is still in love with his childhood sweetheart, sings a song full of pain: she will go on loving him, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t. Zohrabai Ambalewaali sings this beautifully, and the tune has some lovely variations, especially in the interludes.
8. Thaheriye hosh mein aa loon (Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain, 1965): I watched this film for this song. Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain turned out to be a bit of a dud as far as the rest went, but at least the music was wonderful. Jo humpe guzarti hai is another lovely song, but for me the best song of this film is this lovely duet. Rafi and Suman Kalyanpur are wonderful, and the romance is heightened by the way she hums through much of the song.
9. Rut jawaan jawaan raat meherbaan (Aakhri Khat, 1966): In a complete about-turn from all the other songs on this list is this one, a superb example of Khayyam’s versatility. If Khayyam could do the very soft, very Indian songs, he could also do Western tunes. From Aakhri Khat itself, there’s the very peppy Hai kuchh bhi nahin o my darling—and there’s this one, both sung by and picturized on a very young Bhupinder. I love Rut jawaan jawaan raat meherbaan: there’s a sensuousness to it, an uncluttered feel that is very elegant. And what with the famous Chic Chocolate himself on the trumpet, it’s also a rare glimpse of a song where two of the main onscreen musicians play exactly the music that’s supposed to be in the song.
10. Ab kahaan jaayein ke apna meherbaan (Pyaar ki Baatein, 1951): And, to end, a song from one of Khayyam’s earlier films. The music director of the Nargis-Trilok Kapoor starrer Pyaar ki Baatein was Bulo C Rani, but he fell ill after composing some of the songs, and asked Khayyam (then working under the pseudonym of ‘Sharmaji’) to compose the rest of the songs: Khayyam composed two, and this one—the first song Lata Mangeshkar sang for Khayyam—was one of them. A classic ‘sad song’, Ab kahaan jaayein is a simple, uncomplicated tune, and even though the orchestration here is more than in most of Khayyam’s later songs, it still allows ample scope for Lata’s voice to shine forth.
Thank you, Khayyam Sahib, for the music. Your songs will live on.
P.S. Edited to add: Have a look at this sweet little tribute by Amul.